Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fruit of the Spirit

Inspired in part by a recent comment to the effect that we, as Christians, do not follow Christ's teachings, I thought I'd sit down and look at how we are to live as Christians. What attributes should we show through our example to the rest of the world, what makes us different or what should make us different? The most succinct statement of these attributes can be found in Galatians 5:22-23; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control. To some degree these should all be present  in any Christian's life.  While these are gifts from the Holy Spirit, we must not only be aware of them but we must also nurture and develop them in our lives.

Love - "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). The word translated here as love is from the Greek word agape and is very common in the New Testament. This is not romantic love, it is Christian love, unconditional love. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians that if he had all things, but had not love, he would have nothing. While this is unconditional love, it is not blind love. We are still to be there to help others see their mistakes and help them. Paul goes on to give the definition of what Christian love is: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). We should constantly refer to this checklist of aspiring attributes and hold ourselves up to these traits as a way to check our life's progress. As a checklist of attributes to aspire to have in your life, we should constantly refer to and hold ourselves up to these traits to check our progress.

Joy – Do not confuse this with happiness, the two things are very different. Happiness is situationally-dependent, joy is not. Again, Paul is a great example as through his years of incarceration he undoubtedly had some very unhappy times. However in his letter to the the Philippians, he still expresses his joy in the Lord and talks about the work he has yet to do for the Gospel. "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). I have found that this joy is what can sustain me when nothing else can. It has been the one constant for much of the past few difficult years of my life. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). To me, joy is also very closely related to the next attribute, peace. I don't know that you can have one without the other.

Peace - "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). This is inner peace that comes from knowing that no matter what happens in life, we have nothing to fear because we have heaven to look forward to. It comes when we can relinquish the hold that material things have on us and when we can understand that while we live in this world we are not to be caught up in it. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) This for me is a constant struggle. It's one of those things that's very easy to know and understand yet very hard to practice.

Longsuffering (patience) -- We are "strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness" (Colossians 1:11). As this passage shows, none of these fruits exists entirely on its own. They all work together and reinforce one another to make a picture of what we should look like. Patience for us humans is difficult. We don't like to wait for anything or anyone. I have found that when I can be patient with others they generally respond in a positive manner, particularly when dealing with government agencies or large corporations. Even if they don't respond any differently, I feel different for having treated them with patience and respect as opposed to blowing up at them in frustration. "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Ephesians 4:1-2).

Gentleness (kindness) -- “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”(Ephesians 4:31, 32) Being kind to one another seems like such a simple thing. It is something most of us learned in kindergarten and then forgot at some point. It is far easier to give a sharp reply to someone and walk away than it is to take a moment to be kind and care about them. But it's in these small acts that we set ourselves apart from the rest of humanity. I know I have experienced in my life how a simple act of kindness that took only a moment longer or a step out of my way had a much greater impact on the recipient than on my day. This is one of the precepts of Christianity that is easy to brush off as being overly simplistic and naive, even childlike. Perhaps it is, but these simple childlike acts are the ones we should be doing on a regular basis and the ones that show others that we care for them particularly if we don't even know them.

Goodness – What is goodness? What does it mean to be good? How do we measure what is good over what is not good? To answer these we have an encounter with Jesus to pull from. He was approached by a man who called Him “Good Teacher,” to which He replied, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) So there we have it, God is good. Obviously we cannot be like God, but we can do our best to emulate Him and the example set by His Son while he was on earth. Unlike Google's motto, “Do no evil,” our motto is to; do good. Just doing no evil is not enough. "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9).

Faith (faithfulness) - "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?"(Mark 4:40) These were Jesus' word to His disciples after He calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Even these men who were selected by Jesus were at times uncertain in their faith, and they lived with Him for years. How much harder is it for us today to maintain our faith? I lost faith at 13 years old after my father died, and it took me 25 years to find my way back. It takes maintenance to keep your faith. By continuing to read the Bible and surrounding yourself with believers who can lift you up, support you, and who aren't afraid to call you out when you are stumbling. But this term also refers to faithfulness or trustworthiness. We are to be good stewards of things were are in charge of and we are to do our best to live our lives beyond reproach. Particularly, those of us who teach the Bible ( I teach adult and middle school Bible study) are to keep in mind the responsibility we have to our students to not only teach them the right things but also to live our lives as a testament to what we teach.

Meekness - “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”(James 1:21) This attribute is not to be taken as weakness or as belittlement of ourselves. It refers to us never being too proud to do any job that needs to be done, no matter how humiliating or low it may seem. Christ gave us the best example of this when He washed the disciples feet (including Judas) at the Last Supper. He took on the role of a servant, not because He was weak, but because He was not above the lowliest task. "With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).

Temperance (self-control) - "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love" (2 Peter 1:5-7). To me this concept wraps around all of the other attributes listed here. Gaining salvation does not make us sin-free, nor does it make it so that we can live all of these attributes without work. The majority of that work involves self control because our base and worldly nature is to act in just the opposite way. We must crucify these innate impulses on the cross with the help of the Holy Spirit in order to grow beyond them and into the full maturity of living a life worthy of being called Christian.

This short list of attributes is one which we must use to evaluate our walk with Christ on a regular basis. While the concepts are simple and easy to understand, it is apparent that we all can and should spend the rest of our lives working towards attaining them.

1 comment:

  1. Amen, the fruits of the spirit is what makes us different from the rest of the world. Even the bible says by their fruit, you shall know them.